|HER WORLD||Sunday, November 2, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
Spirit of enterprise
Home is where
the hotel is !
A recent survey shows that young people think it is lethal to mix romance and career progress. Many have burnt their fingers trying to balance their lives precariously between their professional ambitions and the demands of a personal relationship, says Vimla Patil
RAJESH is a senior manager in a luxury business hotel in Mumbai. Five years ago, he married his colleague in the same management trainee group and settled down in a suburban flat. "I opt for more travelling than I need because I have to get away from my home to keep my sanity," he laughs, "There is basically nothing wrong with my marriage. I met Neeta at my workplace and had a whirlwind romance before marrying her. But being my colleague, she knows everything that goes on in the office. She knows the little jealousies, intrigues, the girls lusting after me — or any young man in the office for that matter — and she takes all her suspicions home. We never seem to have a quiet, enjoyable evening at home like other couples. The conversation always centres on office and the people we work with. Everywhere we go, the talk is about our office. I am tired with this and want to get on with life. I travel a lot to be away from this stupid atmosphere and am considering taking another job though I think my present job offers me great opportunities."
Rajesh’s is but one example of young men and women coming to comic or serious grief after romancing and marrying a workplace colleague. Sunita, for example, has discovered a new facet of her colleague-husband after marriage. "We both seem to compete for the same positions in our company," she says, "there is tension between us when a promotion is announced. My husband suddenly ‘acts like a man’ and feels that he should get the promotion and not me. Suddenly, I look at him with new eyes and wonder if he is truly the liberal man I married!" Neelima’s is yet another case. "In our jobs, both Chirag and I have to work after office hours. Our promotions depend upon the results we show in our work. But he always insists I should go home to look after our little son and to do housekeeping. He thinks this is solely my responsibility. I know that after office hours, there is work, but there is also a lot of fun with food being sent for and jokes going round. I feel he wants to enjoy this while he wants me to slog at home!"
Chandra’s problem is more practical. "Being in the same department," she says, "Nilesh and I can never go on leave together. We work for a service centre with just two people and one of us has to be on duty. So we constantly fight about not having time together!"
All these interviewees and the opinions they express are typical of the hectic, frenetic modern times in urban India. "Thousands of hopeful youngsters finish their education and join small and large companies as trainees. With an equal number of young women seeking higher and specialised education, there are extremely capable young women in the management cadres of most companies. There are college romances which continue into the workplace and new romances which begin because of the proximity in which young people work these days," says Leela Vaidya, who heads Saath-Sangat, an NGO which specialises in pre-marital counselling and marital problems. Leela continues, "Romance is a dream most young people yearn for. Though they know that dreams and reality can be diagonally opposite, they try to search for their romantic dreams in real life. Television serials and movies feed such dreams constantly. They long to recreate the same stories of undying love in their personal lives. Studying or working together, they begin to make friends of the opposite sex and very often, their close confidantes are from the opposite sex.
"Additionally, modern parents do not mind their sons and daughters going out in groups to discos, pubs, movies or on picnics. ‘Hanging around’ is a common term used for college or workplace groups. Many parents accept dating as a normal activity for their young progeny. Since parents or guardians cannot ‘police’ their offspring constantly, romantic couples that fear reprimands, begin to hide their private lives from their families. In this ‘cool’ and permissive atmosphere, the old concepts of ‘space between bodies’ or the ‘sanctity of the feminine body’ have been trashed. Naturally, romantic or even sexual relationships happen among young people who spend a lot of time together and touch each other without ‘old-fashioned’ inhibitions. Their youthful passion and sexual needs take over and liaisons become common.
"While college romances happen during the teenage years and end with graduation, office romances have a way of affecting the lives of young people in a more serious manner. When couples become an ‘item’ at a workplace, they attract gossip. Their tensions and fights become public knowledge and make the divide worse. More important, when the families of the parties to an office romance object vehemently, everyone in the workplace knows about the circumstances and the drama of the romance becomes public property. Work pressures take their toll on the romance, causing the couple to lose valuable time and opportunities for improving career options. This is probably why more and more men and women shun office romances or even temporary link-ups.
"In Indian society, short-term relationships always leave pain and suffering in their wake. In an office, it is difficult for a man or woman to continue working at optimum efficiency after one or more such relationships. Then again, a relationship between a boss and a subordinate causes further damage. Many youngsters mistake a friendly interest for romance and complications arise. The end result of many such relationships is that a young woman or man has to quit a promising job or lose chances of promotions. Therefore, our observations show that increasingly, young people prefer to avoid getting entangled in workplace romances and want to concentrate on their careers!"
As Natasha, a young woman
hurt in a workplace relationship, says, "If I had heeded my better
judgement, I should have known that making eyes at each other across
computers cannot be the basis of a lasting relationship. We Indians are
not used to short-term relationships based on sexual gratification
alone. Our mindsets make us want more out of a relationship. Workplace
relationships are a no-no for most people today. "It is better to
concentrate on one’s career opportunities because the competition is
heavy-duty, the pressures of work and keeping up with technology are
huge and losing opportunities is suicidal. When the right man or woman
comes along, there is enough time for building a sturdy relationship
based on trust and permanence. It is better be wise and wait!"
FOR Meghalaya, it won’t be out of place to rewrite the cliché and make it "Behind successful eco-friendly farming, there are women."
Men are smart and women are smarter in this state that has earned the sobriquet of being the Scotland of the East. It’s a woman’s world in Khasi Hills. The society is matriarchal and women have a say in daily affairs. What’s great is that they know their place in society and are asserting themselves in changing the way agriculture is practised in the state.
Jhum, also known as slash and burn agriculture, is a way of life in this hill state. Herein a piece of forest land is cut and burnt to be cultivated till it remains fertile. Once barren, it is then abandoned and the cultivators or the Jhummias, as they are called, move on to clear another patch of land. This is causing soil erosion and depletion of forest cover at an alarming scale.
This form of agriculture is one of the major sources of livelihood for many tribal communities and Meghalaya is no exception. Currently 20 per cent of the rural population is dependent on jhum for livelihood in this state.
Khasi men just marry and go on to live with their wives at their mom-in-laws’ place. In Meghalaya’s matrilineal society, land holdings, property and wealth are passed through the female rather than the male lineage. From mothers to daughters, that is.
Everything, including farming, is also done the way women want. NGOs, social scientists and agricultural experts are well aware that this gender has a definite and a dynamic role to play in the society. So they are targeting and convincing women through mass awareness campaign to either shift to a better means of livelihood, like sericulture, horticulture and livestock rearing or modify the way jhum is done. And their efforts have borne fruits.
For example, Bosco Reach Out (BRO), a regional non-governmental organisation, launched a project, Vermiculture enterprises for rural women, wherein 100 tribal women were trained in organic farming. The project was a success. Similarly, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) targeted women farmers in rabbit rearing and modified jhum. Here too results were positive.
"The concept of jhum is deeply ingrained in the Khasi society. We can’t wish it away overnight. So why not modify the technique and teach women farmers about rainwater harvesting, horticulture and contour bunding," says Jawahar Lal Singh, a central government technical officer, posted in Meghalaya.
According to social scientists, the entire gamut of tribal society is interwoven with this means of food production. New settlements create serious disturbances in socio-cultural milieu as magico-religious rituals are also associated with jhum. So it requires great social courage to forego Jhum for some other viable option and for those women who defied the traditional jhum system it has not been a cakewalk.
"When we shifted to contour type of agriculture, we suffered losses during the first two years. My son, a schoolteacher, was shaky at first but then I put my foot down. Now me and my daughter, assisted by my son, reap a good harvest," says T. Kurba, a woman farmer from Mapwun village who had the courage to adapt new techniques of cultivation.
Boglih, a peasant from Nongpoh, discloses her plans to shift to settled kind of cultivation. "I plan to shift to horticulture. Next April, it’s either going to be tea or citrus plantation. No jhum for the sake of environment and these hills that are losing their greenery due to erosion," she says.
There are contradictions too. For example, Bah Phait, who runs a teashop at Phyllun village, is fed up convincing his wife to shift to a more evolved kind of cultivation. He even urges this correspondent to intervene. "She is sticking to age-old beliefs and traditions. What can I do? The whole world is progressing in front of us while we run into loss every year and my wife doesn’t listen. Can you convince her?" he pleads.
Kyndow, a farmer from Mylliem, is a farmer with a difference. Last year, she successfully shifted towards rabbit rearing and this year she is making rounds of the state agriculture and forest departments to know more about sericulture. "I want my daughter to learn silkworm-rearing. This is profitable, I have heard," she asserts confidently and reels off mulberry, bivoltine breeds and silkworm statistics that she collated from various sources.
Though there are no sources to authenticate the figures she gives to support her argument yet in all probability she may be right. For in Meghalaya, mothers know the best.
where the hotel is !
I was floating on cloud nine when I got engaged to Surinder, a hotelier. Oh! It seemed so blissfully romantic to live in snowy ‘n' misty Shimla. But I should have prudently wiped my glasses to take a second look at him, rather at his profession. I hadn't bargained that by marrying him, I would plunge headlong into hoteliering. Well, it was a sheer case of marrying a hotelier and marrying his hotel too.
Just after marriage I was astonished when Surinder contentedly remarked, "It's good you have checked-in my room!" Later, I learnt that check-in, check-out, lodging, boarding, tariff, itinerary, housekeeping, front office, etc. was everyday hotel terminology.
The very concept of 'house' changed. My five-roomed residence (in the hotel) extended to forty-five hotel rooms. And my smart husband smugly transformed a housewife into a fusion of a secretary, housekeeper, public relations officer, interior decorator and chef. Often, I am mistaken for a doctor too while administering first aid.
Imagine instructing a bride on the difference between hotel, hospital and domestic beddings! In bridal attire, I checked rooms for clean linen, fresh flowers, leaking taps, fused bulbs, missing curtain rings and so on. I was taken aback when hubby dear said, "My dear, just run down to bazaar and buy 15 litres milk, 4 kg. cheese, one sack of potatoes, 10 kg. peas, etc." I was quick to memorise how many cups of tea, one litre of milk could provide, how many portions (i.e. plates) were there in one kilo peas, etc. I updated myself on housekeeping paraphernalia like different kinds of cleaning wipers and their multilocking systems, different fragrances in fresheners/pesticides as well as various excuses staff made when demanding leave. I kept pace with how much guests had progressed in damaging hotel carpets and tapestry and pilfering hotel linen. And to keep Dame Boredom at bay, I would be handed reservation charts!
Years have rolled by, but we still go to bed discussing the hotel's occupancy, waking up in mornings anxious to know the tanks' water level! Whenever the khans (Kashmiri coolies) carried hotel guests' luggage to the railway station, my little son would throw a tantrum, insisting upon accompanying him to see the rail engine. Invariably the poor coolie would be bent carrying suitcases on his back, with a toddler in his arms in front.
Riddles ‘n' rhymes which I taught my kids, were all related to hoteliering. When I, Mother Hen, asked the roost: when are cooks most cruel? - they would correctly answer: "When they beat the eggs and whip the cream." Or sometimes: what did one barfi say to another? They would sing, "Why are you so khoya khoya these days?" Struggling to teach them maths, even simple addition sums would be: if I had ten bottle openers and gave away two to a waiter`85.! Teaching waiters, the five essentials in a pocket—a diary, a pen, a duster, a match box and an opener—is another story.
A hotel guest fills in a form before checking-in. It has a column: 'accompanied by.' A young chap wrote, "By my own wife" - as if others come with someone else's' wives! Another column asks: 'purpose of visit.' A guest had truthfully entered, "To buy potatoes." I was nonplussed till I learnt that the Gujarati farmer had come to buy truck loads of Himachal's seed potatoes.
Wanting to know whether a twin bed or a family suite would be required, I often enquire from potential guests, whether their children are accompanying them. "Kya bachche ghar chhod ke ayen?" they (Punjabi ones) invariably snap at me.
Tourists wish to know about Himachal including Shimla. Once wanting to impress a highly learned guest, I began, "Sir, you are standing on a Himalayan ridge which has risen from the bed of a pre-historic ocean, the Tethys." He was simply shocked! Of course, geographically it is correct.
The sizzler is cr`E8me de la cr`E8me of our cuisine. The sizzler's smoke would fizzle out by the time a waiter reached those rooms which are little far from the kitchen. But I found a way out —the caterer now runs fast with sizzler in hand, followed by a kitchen boy carrying a cube of chilled butter. He slips the butter on to a burning hot iron plate just outside the room, to create the sizzling sound ‘n' smoke effect, and enters the room trying not to pant, saying calmly," Sir, your sizzler."
I never knew that chefs were called ustads like music and dance maestros.Our hotel was fully reserved for a large group when the hotel cook fell ill. This was a crisis. And I was the best substitute my husband could find. My problem was: who would baby-sit for my two-month old? Kulwant was our newly employed untrained waiter. Straight from a remote village, he couldn't differentiate between a cup and a mug. So being unfit for anything, the choice fell upon him and he dutifully held my babe-in-arms flat like a tray in one corner, while undisturbed Mom—the Queen in Kitchen—cooked gourmets' delights like dal makhni, koftas, kormas, etc. Indeed, the way to glory is through the gravy.
On another such crisis, I cooked for a South Indian VIP guest. I didn't want anyone to know about it. I had kept a small hair brush, a lipper and a compact in my apron's pocket. When stepping out of the kitchen, I would quickly touch myself up, trying to look unflustered. One night the VIP's wife stepped into the kitchen exclaiming, "The food's delicious. Tell me which curry powder you use?" I was taken aback. I gave her the recipe for garam masala used in Punjabi cuisine apart from some to take home down south. She sniffed it saying, "It will clear my mother-in-law's blocked nose too!"
An extremely rich guest's wife informed that her husband was missing from the room. He was found in another room sitting on a chair, lecturing on Napoleon Bonaparte in propah English, to a group of dumbfounded simple Marathi-speaking women and children from Nasik, seated on floor. Obviously he had had a peg too many.
Lend me your ear to a part of Girl Friday's routine. Room no.408 needs a paracetamol to get rid of his headache, room no.202 wants a hot water bag and not extra blanket, room no. 510 requests for an itinerary for Manali, room no.602 desires to know when it snows in Shimla, room no. 401 refuses to pay Luxury Tax while the Bombayite in room no.304 has put the heater under his quilt as he felt cold, thus burning the bedding and room no. 202 complains that monkeys are peeping at apples through window panes. And woe betides if there's a mix up!
SEWA literally means service in many Indian languages. But as the acronym for Ahmedabad-based Self Employed Women’s Association, sewa holds a much larger meaning — from developing self-esteem and self-empowerment in women to gender role reversal and above all, promotion of a cultural tradition.
Set up in 1972 by the well-known social reformer and visionary, Ilaben Bhatt, this unique organisation of women artisans commands a membership of 530,000 today. More than 100,000 are from village of Kutch — a region known for its rich textile heritage and being the repository for some of the most vibrant hand embroidery styles ever created. SEWA has harnessed the age-old skills of its gifted members into producing beautifully embroidered bedcovers, table linen, wall hangings, hand bags, wallets, kurtas, tops, shirts, jackets, stoles and scarves. Women are paid on-the-spot for their efforts, even before their work finds a customer at the market place.
"We are doing what our mothers and grandmothers have been for ages," says Chanduba Sodha, a master craftswoman in patchwork, who has been with SEWA for the past 15 years. "The only difference now is that this work brings us joy and freedom — freedom from being dependant upon anybody."
Traditionally, women of Kutch (as in most others other parts of rural Gujarat) are trained in various forms of embroidery from their very childhood and when the bride enters her new home, custom demands that she carry embroidered bed spreads, pillow cases, quilt covers and the like, done by her own hand.
Her wedding trousseau too is a work of love, hand-stitched and embroidered by her mother as a parting gift. "Needlework is a natural gift every Gujarati girl is blessed with and it is around embroidery that our family lives revolve," informs Ramiben Rabari, another artisan in Lakhpat village.
Says Monaben, a coordinator who handles the retail outlet at Banascraft: "The SEWA women are standing on their own feet, earning money, educating their children... and are far from the fear of unemployment."
Jomiben of Madhutara village offers a case in point. From a salt pan worker earning barely Rs 10 a day, she has risen to an aagevan (team leader) with SEWA in 12 years, supervising the work of 150 women and earning up to Rs 150 a day.
"I am the sole bread earner in my family," she declares, her eyes twinkling in obvious pride. "I have five children and all of them are going to school. My husband manages the home, be it serving guests or helping our daughters in the kitchen. I just take life easy."
Jomiben’s proficiency lies in Bharat kaam, kataab kaam and khaap kaam — different types of patchwork and mirror embroidery, distinctive of the region. She has already visited the USA and France to share her skills, as part of community learning workshops, sponsored by the government.
Then there is Rajuba Sodha who specialises in cushion covers and wall-hangings, which are huge hits with the tourist crowds. A swift worker, she informs that she can embroider as many as 200 mirrors a day and earns as much as Jomiben.
"After my husband died eight years ago, we were in deep debts," she narrates. "One by one, my sons left me, moved to towns, got married and did not look back since. That was when SEWA came to my rescue. Not only could I clear my debts, today, I have my own bank account and property in my name.
Significantly, the men folk have been quite encouraging and as Monaben points out, have indirectly contributed towards this silent revolution: "We are yet to find a case when men have grudged their women turning economically independent or controlling the purse strings."
The bigger blessing though, is that several embroidery styles which have been nurtured over centuries, would have faded away, if it were not for SEWA’s intervention. For before the organisation stepped in, many fashion designers from Mumbai were getting work done from these artisans, but on their terms.
"They had a
corrupting influence," recalls Jomiben, describing the embroidery
styles and motifs with short-cuts, alien to their sensibilities.
"In the process, our girls were forgetting the art of our
ancestors. SEWA gives us a free hand to develop on what we were taught
and preserve the tradition every Gujarati takes pride in." MF